Umbilical Cord Stem Cells
Umbilical Cord Stem Cells
Autism, clinically referred to today as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, has had a long and difficult road to understanding and, more important, treatment. For many centuries, ASD wasn’t even properly recognized as a distinct condition with its own needs and treatment methods. While there was often a clear behavioral component, there was little understanding of the neurophysiological nature of the condition. Today, while there is much more knowledge about the condition available, the medical comprehension regarding the condition is still far from complete.
Research into the condition continues, and so far, much progress has been made in both gathering data and finding different ways to manage ASD. One thing that eludes medical science, however, is a cure. ASD, at least with modern treatments, still currently has no cure, the symptoms can only be managed through various methods. Those methods range from behavioral therapy techniques to medications like anti-psychotics. There is one new avenue that is being explored, and that is using umbilical cord stem cells. But what are umbilical cord stem cells, and why is this development so promising?
There Is Power In Potential
Umbilical stem cells are simultaneously one of the most basic cells in human anatomy and the most difficult to use for medical purposes. It wasn’t until just a few decades ago that medical science got to the point where experts understood the potential of stem cells put them to use. A stem cell is the basic building block of life. DNA is the blueprint that provides a complete “map” for building a human being, but it is stem cells that do the work.
Other cells in the human body are singular in their reproductive ability. Skin cells can only reproduce more skin cells, and hair can only grow more hair. Nerves don’t grow out of eye cells, and stomach cells can’t create additional brain cells. Stem cells, however, are the exception to this rule. These cells start “blank,” in that they don’t have a previously assigned “function.” Because of that, they are capable of “reprogramming” themselves to become any cell in the body, whether it is more skin cells that easily reproduce or rare heart cells that don’t reproduce at all.
This is how human beings are born. When an egg is fertilized by sperm, and a new genetic blueprint is formed from the fusion of DNA, the first order of business is to divide and create more and more stem cells. These stem cells, once they are sufficient in number, eventually specialize into the organs like brain, kidneys, and heart.
A Limited Window
Unfortunately, while stem cells are unlimited their ability to become any cell, they are limited in their presence. The stem cells created during pregnancy are known as “pleuripotent” because of their cellular versatility. The catch is that pluripotent cells are only generated during pregnancy by the considerable resources provided by a pregnant mother. Human beings, after birth, do create more pluripotent stem cells of their own.
Humans do, however, continue to create other, more limited stem cells. Bone marrow is a source of stem cells after birth. In the bone marrow, stem cells are created that can become different types of blood cells, wether that is red, white, or other cells.
It was the discovery of these stem cells in the bone marrow that eventually led to an effective treatment for leukemia that is now officially approved by American medical organizations, and larger Federal bodies like the FDA. Leukemia is a form of blood cancer that causes mutations in blood cells, so they reproduce incorrectly, with more and more flaws. Stem cells harvested from bone marrow, however, can restore the balance of cells that reproduce healthily.
Pluripotent stem cells have been extensively used in research, and are now seen as a potential treatment for a variety of formerly incurable conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, and ASD. Curiously, in the United States, only stem cell treatments for blood-related illnesses such as leukemia are currently endorsed by the FDA. Other countries, such as Germany, China, and Georgia, are years ahead in branching out to other treatments. Even the celebrated American athlete Payton Manning famously traveled to Germany for stem cell treatments to his neck to recover from an otherwise career-ending vertebral injury that had no available treatments in America.
Pluripotent cells can only be ethically harvested in significant numbers from the umbilical cord, which is why they are sometimes referred to as umbilical cord cells. To use umbilical cord cells, a mother, after childbirth, must request—or agree to a request—to collect the cells and store them for future use. Stem cells are only compatible with close genetic relations, so ideally, a child, for example, being treated for ASD would use stem cells stored from birth. Failing that, the stem cells of a close genetic relative, such as a younger sibling, would suffice if those stem cells were stored, but the patient’s stem cells were not.